Tag Archives: tomatoes

Photos from the last week of August.


My daughter reaches for a tomato, later I turned this bowl of garden goodies into dinner.

Three giant fennel are the last to be harvested. I kept them in extra long because they attract butterflies and beneficial insects.

I pulled the beets. They weren't the largest beets, but they were packed with flavor.

Look, a square tomato!

The 'Green Zebra' tomatoes are ready to pick when they turn Packer green and gold.

Aha! All those purple peppers on the 'Chinese 5 Color' pepper plant are now turning different colors. So pretty!

Here is a peek at the corn.

A 'Delicata' squash. It doubles in size every day.

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Photos from the second week of August.


This tomato rainbow includes "Italian Heirloom", "Tommy Toe", "Black Cherry" and "Sun Gold".

 

A "Nadia" eggplant. Really love the purple and white striping on these.

 

This "Caraflax" cabbage has formed a nice tight head. It has required frequent spraying with the garden hose to keep pests away, but I'm pleased with the results.

 

My Three Sisters planting is doing great! The corn has soared past the roof of the garage and the beans have grown right up the corn stalk.

 

I choose "Delicata" squash to plant as part of the Three Sisters. Here is a blossom.

 

Look closely to see a small yellow and black bird among the sunflowers. It loves to snack on the sunflowers and is sometimes hard to spot because its coloring creates a nice camouflage.

 

Monarch butterflies like this one--as well as other butterfly varieties--have been visiting the butterfly flowers and snapdragons in this pot.

Photos from the third week of June.


Lavender is beginning to flower. Soon it will be attracting beneficial insects to the garden.

My honeysuckle has been attacked by aphids.

Garlic scapes are the flower stem of garlic. I harvest them and use them for pesto and salads. They have a light garlicky flavor.

Beet greens with water beads after a rain.

Fennel fronds hold beads of water after a rain.

Nasturtium leaves also make a nice resting place for water beads.

This rosemary plant is getting bigger by the minute, I've already harvested from it too! I'm so happy I decided to replace the rosemary I overwintered in the house. This one is much healthier.

I use this veggie bed to rotate crops during the season. Currently it has lettuce, tomatoes, peas, corn (which gets eaten every night, I wonder if we'll get any of it), beans, squash and garlic. Seem like alot? The peas, lettuce and garlic will soon be pulled to make more room for the other plants.

A look at the final baby robin to leave the nest as he contemplates taking the leap.

Gathering Greens & A Few Other Things


Washed, bagged salad greens are perhaps one of the greatest inventions of our modern times.  Sort of.  It’s completely convenient and easy to dump them into a bowl and dress them for a salad, or into a skillet to saute for dinner.  They are clean and crisp, and relatively inexpensive.  But when I think of the gross amount of water and energy used to bring those greens to my table, I cringe a little bit.

Somewhere out in California or Mexico, depending on the season, those greens were grown, washed, bagged, loaded on a refrigerated truck, driven to Wisconsin, kept cold by refrigeration until they made their way to my house and ultimately my mouth.

It seems ridiculous because it’s so easy to just plant a few seeds out in my yard and eat fresh(er) greens anytime I want (as the season permits) using virtually a fraction of a fraction of the amount of energy used to bring me those bagged, washed grocery store varieties.

Don’t get me wrong: I do occasionally treat myself to box or bag of grocery store salad in the dead of winter.  I’m not a purist by any stretch of the imagination.

But I am thoughtful about my greens, and thankful I can grow ’em myself 7 months out of the year.

I like to grow spinach, arugula, head lettuce, leaf lettuce, swiss chard and will be adding kale to the lineup this year.  In addition we also eat the tops of our radishes and beets.

When I’m ready to make a salad or saute something green, I head outside.  Using a kitchen scissors I make quick work of gathering what I need.  As I cut, I put everything directly into my salad spinner.

I take the salad spinner insert outside to harvest greens.

Arugula fresh from the garden, prior to washing.

Once inside I use the salad spinner to bathe the greens in very cold water… this perks them right up and brings them to the perfect temperature for serving.  At the same time they are getting nice and clean without the use of machinery or bleach or anything else those big salad growers out West are using.

I spin them dry in the spinner and we are ready to use them.

When I want to prep the greens in advance of using them or I just have more than I can eat at one time, I store them in a plastic bag with a paper towel in it.  This seems to keep them crisp and they usually last at least a week in the refrigerator, sometimes longer.

Bagged arugula is ready for the refrigerator.

If I discover a more earth-friendly way to do this that doesn’t involve plastic or paper towels I’ll be happy.  But for now this works marvelously for me.

Now on to a few other items.  This time of year tomato plants are growing very quickly and putting new leaves, branches and blossoms every day.  I am in the habit and pinching off the “suckers” that grow between the stem and branches.  It helps to develop a stronger plant.

"Suckers" grow at the point where the stem meets the branch. At this size they are easy to pinch off.

We’ve also had some excellent bird viewing around the garden these last few days.  Our robins have been carefully guarding their eggs.  I’ve noticed that they take turns, one of them tends to sit on the nest most of the time and when it’s the second one’s turn to be on guard duty he prefers to sit on the edge of the nest or in a nearby location.  The fence that hides our air conditioner seems to be a favorite location.

This nest is so sweet. It's getting more difficult to see and photograph it as the honeysuckle has filled in.

Mr. Robin on his favorite perch at night. He's noticed me taking his picture.

Here is Mr. Robin in the background and the trellis where the nest sits in the foreground. He never lets the nest out of his sight and is quick to run other birds such as cardinals out of the yard.

Mrs. Robin dutifully sits. I wonder if these lights surprised her the first night they came on.

A yellow finch stopped by for a drink at the honeysuckle. I've also spotted hummingbirds here.

And finally, I’ve been very busy putting all the starts and seeds into the garden beds this last week.  I’m happy to report that (for now) everything is in!  There will be some successive planting and late season planting later on, but the big spring dig is done and I’m very pleased with how it’s come together so far.

Herb bed and trellis with honeysuckle.

Vegetable bed with the grid still in place. I've planted using a square foot approach this year.

Making more room for tomatoes.


My tomato seedlings have really been growing the last week or two.  It was time to move them out of the seed starting tray and into pots.  While they’ll still have 3-4 weeks before they can go in the ground, they are developing root systems and leaves which will make them strong and healthy for the growing season.

I did this repotting project indoors due to some wild wind outside.

 

I put each tomato plant into a pot and made sure to label it before I forgot which type it was.

 

I used to use peat pots for this step of the gardening process, but there’s been a lot of press lately on the topic of peat and it looks like there are now better alternatives available.  I’ll be looking into this more as I current use peat moss as part of my raised bed filler.  Perhaps there is a more sustainable option I can use.  In the meantime, I’ve made the switch to these 100% peat-free renewable coir pots.  They work the same way, and can be planted right into the garden just as I did with the peat pots.

Here's a tip: A child's garden spade is just the right size for filling small pots with potting mix.

In the above photo you can see I’ve also transplanted the impatiens I started from seed.  Only 7 plants grew in my tray of 70!  That’s a terrible germination rate… and now I’ll be buying a tray of impatiens at the garden center.

Here are the tomatoes, all potted up, labeled and now getting a drink of water from the tray they are sitting in. It's best to water from the bottom, and very easy if the plants are sitting in a tray. The tray will also make it easy to take them outside during the hardening off process.Tomatoes and other seedlings soaking up some May sun.

 

Tomatoes and other seedlings soaking up some May sun.

Seedling Update


Seedling setup.

It’s been a few weeks since I started my second tray of seeds.  For the most part, nature is taking its course and itty bitty versions of my favorite plants have popped up.  There are a few stinkers in the bunch though, a problem that vexes me year after year.  Why don’t some seeds germinate?

These imapatiens are some of the few that germinated out of a tray of 64.

It’s obvious that conditions are not right for the tray of impatiens I had hoped to grow.  I’m not sure where I went wrong with this one.  A few seeds seem to like the accommodations I’ve provided, but the vast majority do not.  Maybe the starting mix is too wet, or too cold.  My previous experience with starting flowers from seed was extremely successful–I grew six varieties of zinnias, they were so healthy and beautiful.  This tray of impatiens is a pitiful sight.

The good news is that veggies and herbs are thriving.  Thinking about the tomatoes and eggplants that these tiny plants will become makes me happy!  Maybe I’ve started too many plants, but I do this in case there is any trouble.  I like to have some back up plants just in case.  It’s insurance.  Inevitably, I’ll be searching out adoptive  parents for my extra seedlings come Memorial Day.

This tomato is showing some nice leaves. All tomato varieties came up with no problems.

Every day I turn the tray around because these tiny plants lean right into the sunlight.

Noticeably, eggplant and pepper seeds are taking longer than the others.  I hope they come up just fine in the next few days.  I’m trying to keep them warm by putting them on the heat vent at night.  They are getting plenty of warmth from the sun during the day.  I’ve never had a problem with these in the past, so I’m expecting them to pop up eventually.

So what’s the next step?  Well, this weekend I will be transplanting some lettuces and spinach into pots outside.  If we are threatened with hard frosts I can always haul the pots inside or cover with a blanket.

I have begun planting seeds outside.  This week my son and I put in the peas and arugula.  I hope to have the head lettuce and radishes in by the weekend as well.  It’s still cold at night here, but not too cold for these types of seeds.  They even like the cold.

Our weather in Southeastern Wisconsin has been cool, damp and rather dismal.  It’s to be expected, but I long for one of those freakishly warm April days that are just right for working outside and getting that first touch of sun on my white wintry skin.  Wouldn’t some warm sun feel good about now?  I think my plants would agree.

I’ve been taking my rosemary and lemon tree outside during the day.  They’ll need a few weeks of this to adjust to outdoor conditions.  The lemon tree has set some new buds and I’m hoping that taking it outdoors will toughen it up enough to hold onto those buds rather than dropping them like the last set.  In a few weeks I will pot it up to the next size of pot and add organic fruit fertilizer to the mix.  With any luck it might produce a lemon or two this year.  Now if I could just get some bees to come back to my yard to take care of pollinization–that lemon tree’d be all set!

A new set of lemon tree buds brings new hope that this tree may produce fruit in 2011.

I’ve always enjoyed videos that show how a seed grows (thanks to my 80’s childhood watching Sesame Street I’m sure) so here is a link to a nice example from Nova:  Teachers’ Domain: From Seed to Flower.

It’s the beginning of an exciting time of year for me.  A time of hope and expectation, a time for work and play.  It’s off to a good start!

Planning my garden, graciously.


Working a small urban garden requires creativity and planning.  With limited space and sometimes odd sun and shade patterns, a gardener needs to have a strategy for working the space.

My 2010 garden was the first garden I planned in which I purposely planted early and late crops, tall and small crops, quick growers and slow growers together but in harmony with one another in order to make the most of my space.  For a first timer, I did pretty well! 

Before and after, the vegetables filled in the entire space.

In one raised bed I started the season with peas, lettuces, arugula and radishes.  As those were being harvested, the cucumbers began to take precedence in the space, happily climbing up trellis in the middle of loose leaf lettuce.  I was picking the cucumbers by the time the pumpkins really needed to sprawl out, and was able to pull out the cucumber vines when they were done producing so that the pumpkins could have the whole bed to themselves for the end of the season.  When pumpkins were done in October, I planted garlic.  The garlic will kick off the 2011 season when it shoots out of ground in about a month.

Peas and lettuces fill this bed in May and June.

By the end of June, cucumbers are climbing up the trellises.

Pumpkins take over the space to close out the season.

 

In the other bed, things got even crazier.  Carrots were planted in a line down the entire length of the bed, dividing it.  They took a break in the middle of the bed to give the leeks a 1′ x 1′ space to grow.  I only grew 8 small leeks in that space, but they did grow!

Beneath tomato plants, I planted beets; next to those, marigolds.  Cabbages and radicchio were neighbors to the spinach.  Beans grew on both sides of the bed, and in the last remaining space I put fennel seedlings. 

Close quarters for the fennel and beans.

Leeks filling a small space.

Marigolds, tomatoes and beets.

It was about mid-season when I realized how much the sun was affecting one corner of that bed.  A tree was keeping it shaded for a few hours more than the rest of the garden, so the beans on that side did poorly.  And the insects really liked the damp microclimate that was created by the shade.  This was compounded by the fact that things were planted closely together, essentially shading each other.  This year I will know this and plant accordingly. 

There are many ways to plan a garden, I prefer to sketch things out beforehand, making sure I’ve got a spot for everything.  Besides the raised beds, I use pots and flower beds along my house as well.  All of these end up on my sketches, labeled with the intended occupant.

Once I’m out in the garden putting the plants in, I often make changes to my plan.  It’s the gardener’s prerogative I suppose.  Sometimes something doesn’t feel right, or look right.  I change it.  Sometimes what seemed like a good idea during a February planning session turns out to be a ridiculous idea in reality.  I’m open to that.

Last year I wanted to grow celeriac–arguably the ugliest vegetable.  I love soup made with celeriac, onions, apples and potatoes in the fall.  It didn’t work out though.  Turns out celeriac needs to be started really early, and my plan didn’t call for that.  When I realized this I had to make some changes.  No big deal though.  A garden is a very fluid thing.  It ebbs and flows.  It changes itself depending on sun, water and other weather conditions.  The gardener takes a cue from the garden itself and adjusts accordingly.

I’m working on my 2011 plan right now.  It looks like I’ll need to buy some new supports for beans.  I also need to think about how many vining plants I can realistically grow in a small space.  I’m so tempted to try melons and squash as well as cucumbers, but how to manage so many vines?  It really does require a plan, and probably some prudence as well.

I’m reminded of The Parable of the Sower (Matthew, chapter 13)  in which the farmer scattered seed over various surfaces with equally varied results.  We all know you can’t grow a seed on a path, a rock or among the thorns.  Good soil produces good results.  Likewise, God’s Word works on the soil that is ready to receive it.  My heart needs to be a vessel of good soil, ready for God to work it.  I can’t let the thorns take over my heart or let someone or something steal the Word from me because I’ve covered my heart with a path.  And I certainly don’t want God to find a rocky place when he comes to sow his seed. 

I’m making my garden plans, and I’m also preparing my heart for God.  It’s something I am reminded of when I think of my garden and the act of sowing seeds.  I know my heart can be a beautiful garden filled with the scent and beauty of God’s love.  “But the one who received the seed that fell on good soil is the man who hears the word and understands it.  He produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.”  Matthew 13:23

I hope my garden here at home is as abundant as that in the parable!

An "abundance" of eggplant grows next to the house.

Tomato Picks


 

So many tomato transplants, so little space.

We live in the city which can be very convenient.  Who wouldn’t want to be 5 minutes from downtown dining, professional sports, museums and theatre?  Not to mention our proximity to Lake Michigan… I can walk there in ten minutes!  But what city dwelling lacks is gardening space, and for a gardener that can be kind of annoying. 

I am learning to work with my space.  And I’m learning restraint.  It’s time to order tomato seeds, and while I am drooling over the gorgeous photos in the seed catalogs, I’m reminding myself that my garden can only handle 4-6 tomato plants.  So don’t go ordering all those tomato seeds!  It’s hard to resist the countless varieties that all hold their own promises of flavor, texture and beauty.  I want them all.

Here’s the plan for 2011, which is (as always when it comes to gardening) subject to change at any time.  I will put four plants into my raised vegetable bed as I did last year.  It’s easy to access the plants on the corners of the raised bed.  I will put two additional plants in nearby pots, and hope for the best.  I’ve planted in pots before with mixed results.  The key is consistent watering.  Same thing with the Topsy Turvy, but I’m not going there this year.

These descriptions are straight off the websites from which I’ve purchased the seeds.

Italian Heirloom (Seed Savers Exchange)
Outstanding heirloom from Italy. Plants are loaded with red fruits weighing over a pound. One of the most productive varieties we have grown at Heritage Farm. Excellent full tomato flavor. Ideal for slicing and canning—very little waste and easy to peel. Indeterminate, 70-80 days from transplant.

Nebraska Wedding (Seed Savers Exchange)
The “ultimate love apple” according to Amy Goldman’s colorful story in The Heirloom Tomato. Nebraskan brides reportedly still receive these seeds as a wedding gift. Listed in the 1983 SSE Yearbook by Dorothy Beiswenger of Crookston, Minnesota. Reliable producer of stunning 4″ round fruits with glowing orange skin. Well-balanced flavor. Plants typically grow less than 36″ tall, but benefit from staking. Determinate, 85-90 days from transplant.

Tommy Toe (Seed Savers Exchange)
Exceptionally vigorous plants yield hundreds of large red cherry tomatoes throughout the season. The superb flavor won it top billing over 100 other varieties in an Australian taste test. Indeterminate, 70 days from transplant.

Wisconsin 55 OG (Seed Savers Exchange)
Bred by JC Walker at the University of Wisconsin in the 1940s. Excellent all-purpose tomato, great for canning. Does best on rich soils. Remembered as one of the best home and market tomatoes in the Madison, Wisconsin area. Indeterminate, 80 days from transplant.

Green Zebra (Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds)
One of my favorite tomatoes. Beautiful chartreuse with deep lime-green stripes, very attractive. Flesh is bright green and very rich tasting, sweet with a sharp bite to it, (just too good to describe!). A favorite tomato of many high class chefs, specialty markets and home gardeners. Yield is excellent. The most striking tomato in our catalog, a real beauty. Around 3 ounces each.

Chocolate Stripes (Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds)
NEW! One of the most amazing tomatoes we have ever grown. For both color and taste this variety excels. Fruit is deep reddish-brown inside,
the outside is covered with beautiful orange and lime colored
stripes. One of the most unique looking tomatoes we have ever tried. It is very sweet and yet has a full-rich flavor, and this is the reason this tomato places very high in taste tests. A favorite here with the staff at Baker Creek. Fruit is medium to large and are of a slightly flattened globe shape.

Wow!  Sounds like a delicious summer is ahead.  These tomato descriptions make my mouth water.  I simply can’t wait for that first taste of a garden tomato. 

For quality seeds and incredible variety:  Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds or Seed Savers Exchange.